A fourth wave of Covid-19 can no longer be stopped, public health officials have warned, as the death toll hit the grim total of 5,000.
Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said we are now in a race against time to get people vaccinated, but even the most optimistic modelling sets out “very significant transmission” in the coming weeks with new cases, hospitalisations, and deaths peaking in September.
A tightening of restrictions, while currently unlikely, cannot be ruled out if hospitals come under the same pressure as they did at the start of the year, Dr Holohan added.
Health minister Stephen Donnelly is expected to announce a revised vaccination programme today, after the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) ruled that AstraZeneca and the one-shot Janssen vaccine can now be given to people aged under 40.
Vaccine registration for those in the 30 to 35 age group will also open towards the end of next week, and it is expected that the new plan will see pharmacies drafted in to administer the Janssen jab to younger age groups.
Nonetheless, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) warned that there is twice the risk of contracting the Delta variant than other previous variants, and the numbers contracting the virus are now growing by 2% each day.
“We see the five-day average more or less tracking up for the last week or 10 days,” said Dr Holohan. “We think that’s going to lead us into another wave of transmission:
Philip Nolan, chairman of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said in the most optimistic scenario, there could be 9,000 cases and 25 deaths in July, 23,000 cases and 60 deaths in August, and 49,000 cases and 16 deaths in September.
In the most pessimistic scenario, there could be 682,000 cases across the three months, 12,985 hospitalisations, 1,685 intensive care unit admissions, and 2,170 deaths.
Prof Nolan said that if Delta had not emerged, there would have been a “slow decrease in case counts”, and the disease would have been effectively suppressed by vaccination.
He said even the most optimistic projections now show exponential growth of the virus.
HSE chief Paul Reid warned that if pessimistic forecasts for the spread of the Delta variant come to pass, it will be “explosive” for services already struggling with the HSE ransomware attack.
“They [cases] alone would be absolutely massive in terms of impacts should the pessimistic forecast come true,” said Mr Reid.
While 80% of servers are now decrypted, Mr Reid said the work of re-entering data and catching up with thousands of cancelled appointments continues.
He said staff are trying to “recover as much as we can, as quickly as we can”.
Meanwhile, Dr Holohan said senior members of the Government were told over the weekend of Nphet’s plans to recommend a proof of vaccination as a stipulation for the resumption of indoor dining and drinking.
Government sources had claimed that the recommendation that only vaccinated people be allowed to dine indoors came as a significant shock to members of Cabinet when Nphet delivered its letter on Monday.
However, Mr Holohan said there should have been “no particular mystery” or “secret” about this, as it had all formed part of the discussions he had over the weekend.
Yesterday, Leo Varadkar said the Government expects hundreds of thousands of people will get a digital Covid cert “within the next three weeks”.
“We’re working out now whether we can use that domestically,” the Tánaiste said.
“It was only ever intended for international travel. Border check control people checking these passes is a very different thing from your local pub or your local restaurants, and that’s what needs to be worked out.”
A Government spokesperson later added that all options are being considered.